11. Telegram 460 From the Embassy in Libya to the Department of State1

460. Rabat for Newsom. Subject: Policy Questions re Recon Flights Off Libya.

Summary: This message asks for more-specific assurances than received to date that certain policy considerations have been fed into decision to proceed with another [less than 1 line not declassified] recon flight off Libya tomorrow. End summary.

1. By separate channel I was informed April 10 that decision has been made at highest level to resume Mediterranean recon flights, and that the first one was scheduled for that day. The message added that the considerations I had raised (Tripoli 0370) had been taken fully into account but that there was an overriding need clearly to assert our rights of transit. Later I was informed that the first flight had been postponed for 48 hours. Whether this was a result of comments I made in flash reply through the same channel is not clear. My message had expressed understanding of the basic decision to proceed with the flights off Libya in order to maintain our rights of transit but had expressed hope that way could be found so that they would not aggravate ME situation or lead to end of this diplomatic mission. I observed that the flight scheduled for later that day did not appear to meet either of these criteria because of its timing and that diplomacy should be allowed to operate before we assert our rights by force. I requested a final review whether to proceed with the April 10 flight.

2. Among the questions asked in Tripoli 0370 of March 26 was: “Has consideration been given recently to alternative ways of collection, including use of satellites, while preserving the principle of freedom of navigation on and over the high seas by occasional and less obvious transit patterns.” Assume that the answer to this question is “yes”, and that in any case these flights, having been challenged, must proceed. I repeat that this basic decision is understandable to us here and indeed was expected, but we submit that how we resume flights is equally important. We are still concerned about the timing of the first flight in view of predictable Arab reactions to Israeli raid on Beirut [Page 17] April 9–10. Furthermore, we are concerned about some important details of the instructions given to the pilots of our fighters who are to accompany the [less than 1 line not declassified] we are raising our questions about this matter in another channel.

3. Regarding the timing, my understanding had been that flights would not resume until situation had been studied further and time allowed for diplomatic action to take place here and have an educative effect. The action was taken, very satisfactorily, on April 10 (Tripoli 0449). Moreover, when seeing same MFA official today, on other business, EmbOff received assurance our démarche had been reported to higher authorities. Still, a recon flight tomorrow rushes things. We have had to spend many hours ourselves pouring over documents and maps to understand all aspects of USG legal position under international law. Can we reasonably expect LARG, which not noted for either its coordination or its speed, to digest what we have presented and within 48 hours reconsider its own position in the light thereof? We think not, and do not understand overriding urgency apparently attached to performing our next C–130 flight. Our differences with the rulers of Tripoli over transit rights go back to 1801, when it took four years to educate them. They have now heard from us again on the subject—but only yesterday, in writing on the complex details.

4. In any case the ME situation, of which the LAR is part and parcel, happens to be in one of its most tense phases in years. Overtones we are getting from Beirut and Cairo, as well as here, are of most extreme anti-American sentiment since June 1967 War, marked by wild but locally credible allegations of USG complicity with Israeli “aggression” if not primary responsibility therefor. Fact that we have publicly “deplored” both Israeli and fedayeen actions of last two days does help, but assume our emphasis now must be on quiet measures to calm situation. How could another recon flight and inevitable LARG knowledge of it, not to mention an interception incident, fit into this general posture we presumably wish to project? If LARG publicizes its knowledge, as quite possible in its present mode of extreme edginess, most Arabs likely to interpret flight as deliberate “protective reaction” to prevent LARG retaliation against Israeli interests in Mediterranean. We do not think that such a linkage is what we want to convey or that need to show our right to overfly Mediterranean is so urgent as to risk the connection being drawn.

5. Finally, LARG announced today that as the burials at Beirut are to be held afternoon of April 12, a popular demonstration will be held at Tripoli at same hour (1700 or 1800 local time).

6. Would appreciate an assurance such considerations are being taken into account now, and notification as early as possible of final outcome of review.

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7. Have no objection to this message being distributed to other concerned agencies Washington.

  1. Summary: Chargé Harold G. Josif questioned the wisdom and timing of the resumption of reconnaissance flights over Libya. Josif expressed concern about the impact of the flights on tensions in the Middle East, and dismay that more time for diplomatic action in Tripoli was not allowed.

    Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–780002, Box 6, Libya 452. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Rabat.